Things to Do in Serbia
Europe’s second longest river and the former frontier of the Roman Empire, the Danube flows through several major cities—though few more charming than the capital of Serbia. From scenic riverwalks and floating bars to secluded beaches and wild islands, Belgrade’s pretty Danube banks promise sights and adventure for any city visitor.
Located high on the right bank of the Danube River in the city of Novi Sad, the Petrovaradin Fortress (Petrovaradinska Tvrdjava) has played a significant role in Serbia’s history. Over the centuries, the site of the fortress has been used by the Romans, Byzantines, Celts, Turks, Hungarians and Austrians. Starting in the 17th century, the Austrians spent nearly a century building new fortifications, including new walls, water moats and channels with movable bridges and control gates. A 16-kilometer long system of underground tunnels was completed in 1776 and visitors today can explore about one kilometer of the system with a guide. While many other fortresses were destroyed when Serbia became part of Yugoslavia, the colonel responsible for the destruction is said to have spared Petrovaradin because he thought it was too beautiful to destroy.
The fortress complex is divided into an Upper Town and a Lower Town. The Upper Town is home to old military barracks, the clock tower and the Novi Sad city museum, while the Lower Town is where you can see military officer residences, the Monastery of St. George and the Baroque style Belgrade Gate. The clock tower is notable for its large clocks with Roman numerals and the minute and hour hand reversed so that fishermen on the Danube can see the time from a distance.
Standing on a 410-foot (125-meter) cliff overlooking the confluence of the Danube and Sava Rivers, Serbia's Belgrade Fortress (Beogradska Tvrdava) has beckoned visitors (and scared off enemies) for centuries. This 124-acre (50-hectare) vantage point served as a military outpost since the first century AD, but is now enjoyed for its history, enormity, and spectacular sunset views.
Essentially a large park within fortress walls, the site contains two museums, two towers, a bunker, and a Roman Well spread out throughout three main areas: Upper Town, Lower Town, and Kalemegdan Park. Upper Town features preserved ramparts of the fortress, as well as the Military Museum, Victor Monument and Ruzica Church, which contains chandeliers made of ammunition casings and a chapel with an allegedly miraculous spring; Lower Town sits on the banks of the Danube River, and while it was the city center in the Middle Ages, only a few buildings have survived. The 18th century Turkish Bath now houses a planetarium.
Kalemegdan Park offers great river views, as well as walking paths, a zoo and an amusement park. Allow a few hours to visit the entire fortress and consider joining a tour to ensure you don’t miss any of the highlights.
Located in the southeastern corner of Belgrade, Avala Mountain (Planina Avala) stands nearly 1,700 feet above sea level. The only mountain in the area, it features more than 600 plant species and has been protected since 1859 as a monument of nature. The mountain is made of serpentinite, limestone and magmatic rocks and is a source of lead and mercury ore, although mining activities ceased in the 1960s. Today, it is a favorite recreational spot for Belgrade residents and is home to several important monuments.
The Monument to the Unknown Hero, built on the site of a medieval town called Avalski Grad, is dedicated to unknown soldiers from World War I. The Monument to the Soviet War Veterans honors members of the Soviet military who died in a plane crash on the mountain in 1964 and the Monument to Vasa Carapic remembers one of the leaders of the First Serbian Uprising in 1804. Avala Mountain is also the site of the tallest structure in Serbia: a 202-foot-tall television tower.
Better known as the House of Flowers (Kuća Cveća), the memorial center for former Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito consists of Tito’s tomb, a memorial collection, a hunting lodge and the residence in which Tito lived. The tomb was once surrounded by flowers until it was closed to the public after the breakup of Yugoslavia and now only white rocks remain where the flowers used to be. Only the tomb and the memorial museum are open to the public. They are among the most visited sites in Serbia and are particularly popular on May 25, Tito’s birthday.
May 25 is also Youth Day and the memorial collection includes permanent exhibitions of the local, republic and federal Relays of Youth, including messages Tito received, tickets and programs for the relays, and photographs of the carrying and transition of batons. A new permanent display focuses on the personal life of Tito and includes the former leader’s personal items, uniforms, souvenirs from his travels and gifts he received.
The National Museum in Belgrade (Narodni Muzej u Beogradu) is the largest and oldest museum in Serbia and the former Yugoslavia. Sitting on Belgrade’s Republic Square, the museum was established in 1844 and has since grown to include more than 400,000 pieces in 34 different archaeological, numismatic, artistic and historical collections. The archaeological collection consists of sculptures from the 5th to 7th millennium BC, thousands of items from ancient Rome and ancient Greece and a rare gold sarcophagus and mummy from ancient Egypt. The numismatic collection features hundreds of thousands coins, medals, rings and seals, including coins issued by Phillip II of Macedonia and Alexander the Great.
The museum’s collection of medieval artifacts hails mostly from Europe and Asia and features an illustrated 362-page manuscript of the Miroslav Gospels written in 1186, rings belonging to 14th century Serbian Queen Theodora and King Milutin’s mantle from the 1300s. Its art collection is also world-renowned, with extremely rare pieces from masters like Matisse, Picasso, Renoir, Degas and Cezanne. It also includes hundreds of paintings by Italian, Dutch, Flemish, Russian, Japanese, Austrian, German and Yugoslav artists.
Devoted to the life and works of Serbian-American engineer and inventor Nikola Tesla, the Nikola Tesla Museum offers insight into the man behind some of the greatest scientific breakthroughs of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The Serbian town of Sremski Karlovci seems to have it all, combining history, religion, and wine with sheer charm and beauty. This is one of the most picturesque towns in Serbia's Vojvodina region, with its well-preserved baroque and neoclassicist architecture making you feel as if you’re wandering the streets of Prague or Bruges instead.
There’s much to see and do on a trip to Sremski Karlovci, so it’s best to opt for a day trip from Belgrade so you can take in all of the town’s major sights, such as the Four Lions Fountain, the Treasury of Patriarchy residence, and the St. Nicholas orthodox cathedral. Many also choose to combine a visit here with a tour of the Fruska Gora monasteries.
Because Sremski Karlovci happens to be one of the most prominent spots on Serbia's wine route, another option is to visit as part of a Vojvodina Province day tour, where you can sample the town’s wares in a wine cellar and combine it with a visit to the city of Novi Sad.
Built in the 15th century and later fortified by the Ottomans, Smederevo Fortress (Smederevska Tvrdava) served as the capital of Serbia during the Middle Ages. Due to its strategic position between the Balkans and Central Europe, it was an important religious and commercial center in its heyday. Modeled after Constantinople Fortress, it provides a nice example of traditional defensive medieval architecture and has been relatively well preserved, suffering no major damage until World War II.
Located southeast of Belgrade, the fortress covers more than 10 hectares in the center of the city of Smederevo, where the Danube River meets the Jezava River. Completely surrounded by water, the fortress features 1.5 kilometers of two-meter thick walls and 25 towers that each stand about 25 meters tall. While only the foundations of the fortress remain in some places, conservation efforts have restored the escarpment along the Danube and a southern wall that is used as a levee. The fortress today is used as a park and often hosts festivals, concerts and other cultural events.
The closest that landlocked Belgrade has to a beach resort, the man-made island of Ada Ciganlija is the city’s most popular summer getaway, marooned on the Sava Lake. Affectionately nicknamed ‘Belgrade's Sea’ by locals, the 800-hectare island offers around 5km of Blue Flag shingle beaches, fringed by a lush expanse of oak and birch forests.
The main draw to Ada Ciganlija is its beaches, and swimming, kayaking and windsurfing are all possible during the summer months, while the waterfront promenade is lined with cafés, ice cream stands and food kiosks. The island also serves as the city’s main open-air recreational ground, with walking and cycling paths running around the lake; handball, volleyball and basketball courts; a golf course; and even a bungee jump tower.
More Things to Do in Serbia
Housed behind a shimmering facade of mirrored glass in a futuristic, donut-shaped building, the Belgrade Museum of Aviation is one of the city’s most impressive museums. Inside, the vast permanent collection features dozens of aircraft, including planes, drones, and even hot-air balloons, formerly owned by the Yugoslav Air Force.
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